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Self-Criticism: Part 1 – The Problem

Leave me the f*ck alone.

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All funny people have experienced the smothering blanket of self-criticism that transports them to a mental void. They’ve just forgotten everything they’ve ever known. These overwhelming self judgments are the air breaks of comedy. But there’s hope. My belief is that self-criticism is misapplied, therefore misunderstood. In my workshops, I teach there are two aspects of the artistic mind: the Creator and the Critic. Both the Creator and the Critic are essential to being creative in any field. But for those who have these out of balance, it can cause them to freeze up, especially while in front of people. Let’s examine the function of each of these two aspects: The Creator For comedians, the functions of the Creator are t



How to Avoid Getting Groans with Puns

From punny to funny.

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Puns have been used since ancient times, in the Sumerian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and of course, Shakespeare. Clever use of language has always been a major source of entertainment and humor. Puns may be useful for annoying your friends, but in professional comedy will invariably produce groans. That’s probably because a good joke, like a good magic trick, is only effective if the audience doesn’t see how it’s done. No form of joke displays its inner workings more overtly than a pun. To make matters worse, someone doing a pun always seems to be saying, “Hey, look how clever I am with words.” This blog will focus on the use of puns in jokes, particularly one-liners, and how to avoid getting groans, instead of laughs. Here are a few pointers: • Put the Pun Word or Phrase in the



Sometimes a Sight Gag is Better

I'll show you mine if you show me yours.

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Sometimes seeing it is funnier than hearing it. This goes along with the adage, “Show don't tell.” Showing or acting out something is almost always stronger than telling them about it. For example, a student of mine, Alan Bockal, does this joke: “So look for me at your local freeway off-ramp. I’ll be the one holding the sign that says: Married a Jewish Girl - Will Work for Sex.” Alan could have just said that joke, but it works much better when he stands there holding the sign like a homeless person on a freeway off-ramp. Comedian and food fan Kevin James has an entire routine about how tiny a Geo Metro feels when he sits in it. He could, of course, just tell the audience that the car fits like a jacket, but instead he pretends to be in the car, holding a steering wheel that ap



Localize Your Material

Joke references that make the audience think you care.

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It’s important to have material that travels. The technique to localize can help you take jokes or bits and tailor them to different geographical areas and use known people to make them more relatable. It’s very simple and effective. First go through your material and make note of all the references to cities, landmarks, hotels, stores, bars, restaurants or politicians, crime bosses, and so forth. When you get to the club, get the local paper or ask someone at the club for ideas so you can fill these in with regional references. This can really improve the response you’ll receive. Here are several examples, if you have a joke that involves a restaurant, learn the name of a well-known local eatery. Then instead of saying, “I was at this restaurant the other day . . . ,” you can say, “I went to Ho



How to Create Characters that Live

Live that Character

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  One of the major differences between fledgling comedians and seasoned pros is the quality of the characters. When I say “characters” I mean the ones that appear in their act outs or scene work. Acting out fully developed characters is one of the most neglected areas for beginner stand-up comedians. Too many comedians just act out the characters and say the lines with their own voice. Even less effective, the comedian doesn’t act out the character, but rather tells the audience what the character said. These are missed opportunities. To really improve the entertainment value of jokes and bits, take the time to identify the characters and then act them out in the show. The trick is to make the characters real people, not caricatures. When teach



Write Short Jokes

I could have written Write Concise Jokes, but it was longer.

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In this blog, Write Short Jokes, I’ll discuss the importance of keeping jokes, especially one-liner, short and to the point. As Shakespeare wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Nothing kills a good joke more certainly than smothering it with an avalanche of unnecessary words and information. I talked a little about this subject when you were first learning to write a punch. Here is an excellent example from my own experience as a teacher of joke writing. A student of mine, Terry R. Jackson, brought a very funny but overwritten joke into class. “I just went through a long and messy separation, which ended in a divorce from my wife. So, after all that, I went on a vacation to Denmark because I was having a sex change. The sex change was from not very often to nothing at all.” T



Handling Hecklers – Part 5

Sometimes Less is More

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  In my previous blogs Handling Hecklers Parts 1- 4, I’ve given some fairly well known tips for crushing hecklers like the cockroaches they are. In this blog, Handling Hecklers Part 5, I’ll offer a couple of more gentle approaches for helping overzealous audience members to shut up.    Sincerely Ask Them to Stop Commenting I know this seems too simple to be true, but it really works. Since most hecklers think they’re helping your show, sometimes just nicely asking them to, “Please stop commenting,” can be enough. I’ve even gone so far as to admit that I’m not as good as they are and to please give me a chance. It’s so disarming to have the performer pleasantly request to stop commenting that most people will agree. After all,



Handling Hecklers – Part 4

The art of comedy Aikido.

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In my previous blog, Handling Hecklers – Part 3, I discussed using heckler lines to get heckler to back down and shut up. In this blog, Handling Hecklers – Part 4, I offer several more tips for dealing with obnoxious morons. Never Invite the Heckler on Stage Guess why I know about this. When I was first beginning back in the mid-70's in San Francisco, I was working at a hole-in-the-wall club known as the Holy City Zoo. I was being heckled mercilessly when I lost my temper and said, “If you think you can do any better, then come up and try.” This one did. He pushed me out of the way and proceeded to tell one really funny joke. The guy running the open mike night came over, I thought to help me, but instead he told the heckler to get off stage, then turned on me and yelled, “There are t



Handling Heckler – Part 3

Let’s play Audience Whack-a-Mole.

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In my previous blog, Handling Hecklers – Part 2, I discussed keeping the proper state of mind when dealing with rude audience members. In this blog, Handling Hecklers – Part 3, I offer several hecklers lines to help purge the scourge. Use Hecklers Lines Heckler lines aren’t as easy to use as you might think. Just because you have a series of great insults memorized doesn’t mean that that’s all there is to handling hecklers. It’s a whole psychological game that you’ll need to learn. Be prepared with a variety of comebacks to fit the different kinds of heckles. You can write them yourself or get them from insult joke books. For example: “Shut up.” “Out of millions of sperm, you were the quickest?”



Handling Heckler – Part 2

What mental state are you from?

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It’s helpful if you’ve read my blog Handling Hecklers – Part 1, as it explains some of the psychology. In this blog, Handling Hecklers – Part 2, I’ll explain three principles that can help you to maintain the correct state of mind to successfully keep yourself and your show within your control. Remain Playful When handling hecklers, no matter how strong your comments, they still must be in the spirit of fun. If it appears that you’re trying to hurt the heckler, the audience will turn against you because the hurt line has been crossed. Remember, whatever state you’re in, the audience is in. If you become mean and vengeful, the audience will become mean and vengeful. The heckler may be messing up your show, but you can always make it worse by attacking without



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